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June 22, 2024 44 mins

In this classic episode of Stuff to Blow Your Mind, Robert and Joe consider the form and evolution of the horse hoof, as well as related adaptations. (originally published 06/08/2023) 

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Speaker 1 (00:06):
Hey, welcome back to Stuff to Blow Your Mind. This
is a Vaald episode. It is Saturday, after all. This
is going to be the first of our two parter
on hooves. Yes, this is going to be Hoo's Part one,
which originally published six ' eight twenty twenty three.

Speaker 2 (00:21):
Enjoy Welcome to Stuff to Blow Your Mind, a production
of iHeartRadio.

Speaker 1 (00:34):
Hey, welcome to Stuff to Blow your Mind. My name
is Robert Lamb.

Speaker 3 (00:37):
And I'm Joe McCormick, and today we are going to
begin a look at the hoof, the animal hoof, specifically
the horse hoof. Rob how did you get interested in this?

Speaker 1 (00:49):
Well, I was in New York last week with my family,
went to the American Natural History Museum, and I was
looking at fossils and bones, and I was captain by
some of the some of the bones of the horse
and started thinking about the hoof and just how strange
the hoof is. Yet yet at the same time, we

kind of take it for granted, because even if you
are not a person who lives among horses and cares
for horses, horses are everywhere in our imagery and our
iconography and our entertainment. You can scarcely be a video
game player at all without having mounted a horse or
lost a horse, or accidentally driven a horse off a
cliff or up a wall at some point. So I

was really taken by this, Like I had not really
in my life set aside any time to just consider
the utter weirdness of the horse hoof.

Speaker 3 (01:43):
I almost feel like the weirdness of the horse hoof
is embodied in the sound of the horse galloping and
how different that is from the sound of the movement
and most other animals you'd think about.

Speaker 1 (01:55):
Yeah, I mean, it's like the drumming of fingers on
a table, right, Like that's that's that's an attempting direction
to go in anyway. Yeah, I feel like it's it's
all too easy to take the hoof for granted, even
in literature. You know, I was thinking, well, we can,
we can kick off this episode with a nice little
quote or a little reading from something that kind of captures,

you know, our current level of fascination with the hoof,
But I really wasn't able to find much. Now again,
horses and hoofs are just throughout human literature. They're everywhere,
and there are you know a lot of literary references
to the to hooves and the sound of hooves. One

poem in particular, in particular that I found that I
ultimately didn't like well enough to feature in the Cold Open,
but it's still notable, is The Hoofs of the Horses
by William Henry Ogilvy, who lived eighteen sixty nine through
nineteen sixty three. I don't know if you're familiar with
this poem, Joe, but it's just all about how much
you just absolutely love the cadence of horse hooves.

Speaker 3 (03:02):
No, I was not familiar with this poem before you
did share it with me. It is it's an almost
comical level of appreciation for horse hooves, an attitude very
much of I'll stop thinking about the sound of horse
hooves when I'm dead, or maybe I won't when I'm dead.
I'll still dream of them even in the grave. It's
also it goes with the F plural. I looked it

up to see is there any difference hooves versus hoofs,
and it seems like no, I both have been used
in English. I think hoofs with the F plural is
more archaic.

Speaker 1 (03:34):
Usually this is one of those poems that you know,
sometimes I read a really good rhyming poem with great cadence.
And you know, I'm like, why don't we rhyme our
poems anymore? You know, all poems should rhyme. This is great.
This is the opposite end of the spectrum for me.
Like this one's just kind of goofy, Like it starts
off the hoofs of the horses. Oh, witching and sweet
is the music Earth steals from the ironshod feet, Yeah,

et cetera. So it's not to my liking, but I
can understand where someone else might love it as much
as this man loved horse hoofs.

Speaker 3 (04:05):
Well, it also commits the ultimate sin of rhyming above
with love. That's you can't you can't come back from that.

Speaker 1 (04:13):
But again, this is not the only account of hoofs
or mention of hoofs in literature. Shakespeare writes of horses
quote printing their proud hoofs in the Receiving Earth. Other
quotes speak of the violence of the hoof, a thing
that imprints the soil or even the flesh of those
fallen in war. Here's a bit from the Jackery, a

fragment by Sidney Lanier who lived eighteen forty two through
eighteen eighty one, midst of the crowd, Old Grisgrion, the maimed,
a wretched wreck that fate had floated out from the
deer storm of battle at Potchi. A living man whose
larger moiety was dead and buried on the battlefield, A

grizzly trunk, without arms or legs and scarred with hoof
cuts of or cheek and brow lay in his wicker cradle, smiling.
And then later on in the same scene, the protagonist
comments that quote, there is no face of man or
woman here, but showeth print of the hard hoof of war.

Speaker 3 (05:16):
Well, I think that's fair. As much as we can
admire hoofs from afar, I don't think you want to
come into contact with one by way of force.

Speaker 1 (05:23):
No, no, absolutely you didn't absolutely do not want to
be kicked by a horse on one level, just for
sheer strength and power of said kick or or the
weight of said step. But also yeah, the hoof as well,
explain is it's not an instrument you want make in
contact with your body with force or speed. Now, there,

of course many references to the hoof and the works
of Cormick McCarthy, The none that I could remember or
search up that really goes in deep on the weirdness
and wonder of the horse hoof. Still, here's a favorite
from Blood Meridian quote under the hoof of the horses,
the alabaster sand shaped itself in whorls, strangely symmetric, like

iron filings in a field. And these shapes flared and
drew back again, resonating upon that harmonic ground, and then
turning to swirl away over the plaia, as if the
very sediment of things contained yet some residue of scentience,
as if in the transit of those riders were a
thing so profoundly terrible as to register even to the

uttermost granulation of reality. Wow. Yeah, so great line. But also,
you know, Cormack doesn't result doesn't really go in hard
on just how weird it is that horses are strange
mammals running around on highly evolved like finger bones, Like
there's a there's a weirdness to the hoof that you

know that he doesn't he even doesn't get into because
it's just such a part of, say, the tapestry of
the American West. You know, in the case of his Westerns,
it's also possible that I'm forgetting some some key line
and another of his book, maybe the you know, the
All the Pretty Horses or one of its sequels. But nothing,
nothing came to mind or in search when I was

thinking about it just the other day.

Speaker 3 (07:13):
Well, maybe here is an amazing place to start if
you want to consider the more granular anatomy of the
horse's foot and the hoof. So look look at your
hands there, you know, you get human hands and extend
the middle fingers on both of your hands. Obviously not
if you're.

Speaker 1 (07:30):
In prospectible thing.

Speaker 3 (07:31):
Yeah, yeah, in you know, discreetly extend those two middle fingers.
These are the analogous bone structures that evolved in the
horse to become the part of the horse's body that
makes contact with the ground. So when horses gallop, they
are galloping on adapted versions of your middle fingers. So

you just imagine run out that middle, your two middle
fingers in front, your two middle toes in the back.
Those got really thick, really strong. Everything else kind of
shrank back and receded in a way. We can talk
later on about whether it makes sense to say that
the horse still has those other fingers in some way
or not. But basically that the part of the leg

that is making contact with the ground and supporting the
weight of the horse is the middle finger.

Speaker 1 (08:23):
Yeah, which is just absolutely bonkers when you stop and
think about.

Speaker 3 (08:27):
It, it is. And the genus to which horses belong
is unique in this regard among the ungulates. So all
of the four legged vertebrates on earth that live on
land share a common ancestor that had five toes on
each foot had four legs and five toes on each foot.
That's our heritage, and we walk around on two legs now.

But we are still we're still part of that evolutionary lineage.
We still have five fingers on our hands and five
toes on our feet to show for it. But some
of our cousins in this lige have undergone more radical
transformations in the bone structure of these distal regions of
the limbs, the ends of each limb. Hippopotamuses, for example,

have four toes. Rhinoceroses and tapers have three toes. Camels, deer, sheep, goats,
and cattle have two toes. But there is only one
group of animals existing today that has evolved to have
a single toe that contacts the ground on each foot.
And that is horses, or more precisely, the evolutionary group

to which modern horses belong, which is the genus equus,
which includes horses, zebras, and donkeys. And the scientific term
for having only one toe is monodactyly. So these monodactyls
are out there running around on their middle fingers. That
when you hear hoof beats, that's what you're hearing, the

middle fingers.

Speaker 1 (09:56):
And you know, again, this is super weird and glorious,
But at the same time, it would be a mistake
to think of this as a kind of simplification, you know,
because the horse hoof we'll be discussing here is anything,
but it's a complex structure composed of hard cornified structures,
living tissues, tendons, ligaments, and more. You know, they are

the various bones we're going to be discussing. We should,
you know, also not make the mistake of overestimating the
strength of the hoof, because yes, it's a highly evolved
anatomical feature that serves a horse very well in its
natural environment, but they are still susceptible to injury and illness,
and you know, the ravages of aging plus domestication by

humans has of course augmented the horse's natural environment and
also changed the sort of regular wear and tear that
they might endure on set hoofs. So to just doing
what I'm gonna do is going to provide kind of
an overview of the different parts of the main outer
and inner parts of the horse hoof of the foot
of the horse. Not in a way that will just

completely bombard the listener with horse terminology, but hopefully get
across some of the complexity here. And if you are
a horse person, and I don't know, maybe you're listening
to this podcast whilst you attend to the hoofs of
a horse, well you might have some added information to
write into us about. If you're not a horse person,

then I think you might find some of the terminology
kind of surprising, I know, not being a horse person myself. There.
I remember the first time I read Cornick McCarthy's Blood Meridian,
there was there was a bit that really threw me
for a curve. It goes as follows. Quote he got
down and drew up the horse's leg. The frog of
the hoof was split and bloody, and the animal's shoulder quivered.

He let the hoof down the sun was about two
hours high, and now there was dust on the horizon.

Speaker 3 (11:50):
I don't know what that means, but it doesn't sound good.
The frog of the hoof.

Speaker 1 (11:54):
Yep, the frog of the hoof. So the frog is
a is a key part of the outer anatomy of
the horse's foot. This is a wedge shaped mass on
the bottom of the horse's foot that you know, I
suppose kind of looks like a dark frog. According to

Robert C. McClure at all in a paper titled Functional
Anatomy of the horse Foot. This was for the University
of Missouri, the frog is one of the flexible parts
of the hoof's external structures. It normally makes contact with
the ground first and then it kind of like pushes
into the digital cushion, an internal mass of flexible material

above the frog that contributes to the formation of the
heels and serves as one of the primary shock absorbers
in the horse's foot.

Speaker 3 (12:45):
This is an interesting balance to observe with the hoof
here in that it has a so the outer mass
of the hoof that you will have observed before, you know,
the hard part is a hard carat in structure, and
yet the hoof also has to remain somewhat springy and flexible.
You don't want it to be like a piece of
concrete that might be really hard but insufficient impact, is

rigid and cracks.

Speaker 1 (13:09):
Yeah. Yeah, again, it would be a gross simplification to
think of a horse as just running around on like
wooden stilt legs, you know, like that. Its hooves are
just like solid things. It's a lot more complicated than that.
Now you might be wondering, well, why do they call
it a frog? You may be looking it up to
see just how much like a frog it, you know,
to what degree it resembles a frog. I've seen it

sort of described a couple of different ways that either
it does roughly look like a frog, and that perhaps
there's this added level of well, you find it under
the hoof in the same way a frog might be
found under a rock or leaf. I don't know. Maybe
I've also heard that it really more accurately resembles the
pelvic bone of a frog, which apparently was carried for

good luck by horsemen. And this also might be tied
to traditions of the horseshoe, which we're not going to
really discuss in this episode, but we may get to
in a subsequent episode these of horseshoes as lucky charms
as well.

Speaker 3 (14:09):
Interesting. Okay, I just looked up the pelvic bone of
a frog. It kind of looks like the wishbone on
a chicken.

Speaker 1 (14:17):
So yeah, I don't know.

Speaker 3 (14:18):
And I'm looking at the frog of a hoof Now
it's sort of V shaped. I mean, you have to
stretch your mind a little bit, but I could see that.

Speaker 1 (14:26):
Now the frog is apparently made up of the same
material as the hoof wall. More on what do we
mean by hoofwall in the second, But you can think
of like the outer hoof as you see it, but
it's more moist a certainly if it's healthy, apparently something
like fifty percent moisture or thereabouts. Now, And that's not
to say that the hoof wall itself is dry. In fact,
the hoof wall or the proper hoof that you see

if you're just looking at a picture of a horse,
it's in fact covered with material that prevents moisture loss.
And with domestic horses, hoof paint is sometimes added as
well to help contain moisture. So again, even the hardest
part of the of the horses hoof cannot be really
thought of as just this you know, like you rock,

you know, hard substance like it's in these These are
you know, organic structures, and there is moisture to.

Speaker 3 (15:17):
Them, and with the keratin basis, I think you could
probably think about it more akin to like a like
a horn or like a thick fingernail exactly.

Speaker 1 (15:24):
Yeah. Now, the frog, interestingly enough, is also a scent gland,
along with the chestnut of the leg and the airgut
of the fetlock. This is one of the reasons that
dogs can tract horses as well as they can. Plus
is apparently one of the ways that horses sniff out
each other in the field. I had no idea, Yeah,
there's a hole, there's a whole just un right underneath
the horse's hoof. There's a whole wonderland of weirdness. Well,

this is funny because we were just talking about beavers,
which apparently, you know, their scent glands and scent markings
play a big role in their their behavior and how
they interact with the environment. So, but I had no
idea that was true of horses. Yeah. Now, as we'll
discuss in a bit, horse hoofs, the hard part of
the hoof grows throughout their life and has to either

be worn down or trim down. This is where professional
farriers come into play with domestic horses, and not only
do they have to trim the hoof proper, but they
also have to trim the frog as it keeps growing
as well, and if not maintained, you can lead to
some infections conditions like thrush and so forth. I'm also

told by horse and dog people in my family that
dogs absolutely love it when their friendly neighborhood ferrier gives
them some hoof or some frog shavings to eat. Joe,
has this ever been your experience?

Speaker 3 (16:41):
No, I never had a dog get this particular treat,
but I can imagine it's in the ballpark.

Speaker 1 (16:56):
All right. So moving outward from the frog, it pushes
against the digital cushion, and when the foot is on
the ground, the increase in pressure and change and shape
in the digital cushion and the frog. It kind of
works everything like a pump forcing blood from the foot
into the leg. And McLure stresses that quote exercise increases
the blood circulation in the foot and favors good hoof growth.

Lack of exercise dryness of the horny wall and poor
nutrition inhibit hoof growth. All right, So let's get to
that hoof wall. The hoof wall is exactly what it
sounds like. It's that tough, horny outside part of the
hoof that's essentially a fingernail. I mean, if we're comparing
it to what we've got going on, it contains no blood,
vessels or nerves, and it grows continuously, so it has

to be worn or trimmed off. And to be specific,
the hoof wall grows out of the cornet located at
the junction of the skin and the hoof wall. So
if you're just looking at a picture of a horse's foot,
like this is where hoof ends, and like you know,
the hairy part of the leg begins now along with

the frog and the bar, which is part of the
wall aka bars of the wall bordering the frog. It's
a key weight bearing part of the hoof. The wall
is made up of the toe in the front, quarters
on the sides, and the heel. Now the interior of
the hoof inside the hoof wall. You can almost think
of it as kind of like this little kind of

U shaped walled city is the sole separated from the
wall by the white line or the golden line where
the inner wall and the sole joined together. The sole
does not make contact with the ground and it primarily
protects the inner structures beneath it. So these are all,
you know, things with the exception of the of the

digital cushion that we reference like, these are all things
that you would see if you were a if you
were just attending to a horse's foot, if you you know,
we're checking out a horseshoe or what have you. Now, again,
the hoof of a complex structure, and I'm not going
to attempt to cover every detail of it. Instead, hopefully
we can cover the key parts of the intern out

or hoof here and provide like a decent audio snapshot
of what it consists of. And I realize, even with
all the terminology we're going through, it still might make
sense to look up a diagram to see exactly what
we're talking about. Now. Internally, it's of course essential to
cover the phalanxes and valanges, essentially the finger bones that
make up the hoof, and the first of these to

cover really is the famous coffin bone, which is also
known as the petal bone or the distal phalanx or
P three. It's contained in the hoof capsule and provides
its shape. It contains no bone marrow, but it has
a lot of blood vessels. And the name apparently has
to do with the fact that it's entirely seated within

the hoof wall, in the interior of the hoof, as
if it were positioned within a coffin. It does not
look like a coffin per se.

Speaker 3 (20:00):
The fact that it seems to be positioned within a coffin,
shouldn't that make it the corpse bone rather than the
coffin bone or the cadaver bone.

Speaker 1 (20:07):
You would think, You would think, I don't know. I
couldn't run down any additional information on where this comes
from other than just like you know, the built up
lingo of horse people over time. So if we have
horse people out there listening to the show that have
more insight on this, certainly right end.

Speaker 3 (20:24):
Oh, please be gentle.

Speaker 1 (20:27):
Whether you're used to working with horses, of course they're
gonna they're gonna be gentle. Okay. Now, more broadly, the
pedal bone is the bottomost bone in the front and
rear legs of horses, cattle, pigs, and other ruminants. Then
there's the navicular bone, so named because it's shaped like
a boat, and looking at images of it, at least
from the horse, I thought it also reminds me a

bit of a whale's tail as well. But I'm to
understand it's named this because it looks kind of like
a boat. It's also known as the distal sesamoid bone.
Most mammals have a navicular bone in their feet. Then
there's also the short pastern bone or middle phalanx. Its
positioned to top the articulating joint of the pedal bone,

with only the bottom portion extending to the hoof capsule,
essentially a fingerbone. So I don't know to what extent
all of that accurately conveyed the complexity and the beauty
of a horse's hoof, of a horse's foot, but I guess,
if anything, it should remind you like the horse hoof,
easy to draw, but far more complicated than you might think.

Speaker 3 (21:34):
Well, another way to look at it is like if
you look up a diagram of the bones in the
horse's hoof, it's not just like a straight bone down
to the ground ending in a nail. There are actually
a lot of bones, little bones crammed up in there,
kind of in the same way that you would see
a lot of little bones making up the human hand,
except in the case of a horse, it has been

streamlined into one more continuous vertical structure or column, with
the different bones kind of supporting each other in that
column as opposed to in the hand the way these
bones are kind of fanned out. Yes, Now, Rob, before
we got recording today, you sent me a picture of
a famous horse from I was gonna say history, but

maybe better to say legend. The meeting point of legend
and history. That really revealed something to me, and it's
that there are certain features that are often quite surprising
to discover, are really unsettling to find on an animal.
One example is if you see human teeth on a

non human animal, like a cat with human teeth, somebody
photoshops that together. It's horrifying. You don't want to see it,
and it's kind of surprising how horrifying it is. And
I discovered a new one today when you shared this
picture with me, and it is a horse with human feet.
Don't like it. Something's unpleasant about that. It's not a
good vibe.

Speaker 1 (23:01):
Yeah, this is an engraving from sixteen eighty seven, attributed
to P. Trocial. You can look this image up. I'll
have to share it on some of our socials or something,
because it's terrific and also a little bit horrifying because
the fore feet of the horse are human feet or
something close to human feet, with clearly visible multiple toes,

like five human toes per foot. It does not make
sense to look at This does not seem like a
good variation on the equine form. You know, it's not like, oh,
like a centaur where you can be like, well, it's
like a horse and a rider as one. You know,
you can run around, it can shoot arrows, that's great. Like, No,
this is a situation where you're immediately thinking, shouldn't those

front feet and they have shoes on or something? How
is this force going to gallop? All sorts of questions
and problems emerge.

Speaker 3 (23:53):
You're exactly right now, this is a cat with human teeth.
It doesn't look like it should work, and it doesn't
look nice. However, I will say other things about this horse,
and I guess in a minute we'll have to reveal
what historical horse this is supposed to be. But first
just allow me to describe this is a hair metal horse.
It has a tail and a main that are luxurious, glorious,

voluminous hair just waving in the wind. You can imagine
this horse really getting down on a guitar solo, playing
with striper or something. And then also this horse has
it appears to me, forward facing eyes horses. I don't know,
it doesn't quite get the horse face right.

Speaker 1 (24:35):
Yeah. I mean the artist was already having to draw
those feet on this horse, so I think we can
forgive them if they maybe didn't put a maximum amount
of effort into the face.

Speaker 3 (24:46):
Oh I'm not holding a grudge against p Trocil here,
but forward facing eyes implies that this horse is a
predatory carnivore, which makes me think it is one of
the Diamedean mirrors or you know, the flesh eating mirrors
of ancient legend.

Speaker 1 (25:01):
It made me think too, of the horse that Ucla
the Mock rides in Thunder of the Barbarian. If anyone
remembers that old one Hanna Barbara cartoon.

Speaker 3 (25:08):
I had to look that up. When you said it,
I wasn't familiar. But that's like it's kind of a
dinosaur insectoid, kind of horse.

Speaker 1 (25:16):
Yeah, a monster horse, you see, and especially sort of
like some old timey sci fi and fantasy.

Speaker 3 (25:22):
But okay, what's the deal with this horse? Who is
this horse with human feet in the front.

Speaker 1 (25:28):
This is none other than Julius Caesar's horse, sometimes referenced
by the name as Turkus or Astracus, But the horse's
actual name, whatever it might have been, seems to have
mostly been lost to history. I don't know that it
has a definite name. It's very much in the vein
in the tradition of say, Alexander the Great's horse Bucephalus.

That one's, you know, a more famous horse that also
ties back in a bit. This also tends to be
part of the general tradition in the Greco Roman culture
of having like a great leader riding a great steed
into battle that only they can mount, that is much loved,
that will of course eventually die and will be remembered

and so forth. But also there's this idea of a
something strange about a horse. There's some sort of a
physical portent of future success or in some cases dire
omens tied up in the strange anatomy of certain creatures,
especially the horse. But anyway, So where does this come from,
this idea that there's this horse by, according to various sources,

that had human feet in the front, or it had
some sort of toes in the front. I had a
time sort of trying to find any actual source on this,
but a lot of it comes back to what the
Roman imperial historian Sutanius had to say about it. This

particular historian lived sixty nine through one twenty two CE.
Here's what he wrote. Quote, he rode a very remarkable horse,
with feet almost like those of a man, the hoofs
being divided in such a manner as to have some
resemblance to toes. This horse he had bred himself, and
the soothsayers, having interpreted these circumstances into an omen that

its owner would be master of the world. He brought
him up with particular care and broke him in himself,
as the horse would suffer no one else to mount him.
A statue of the horse was afterwards erected by Caesar's
order before the temple of Venus Genetrix.

Speaker 3 (27:40):
Ah that would be the temple of the Venus of motherhood,
the Venus of the as the founder of the family.
I wonder what that would have to do with the horse.

Speaker 1 (27:49):
I guess maybe it has to do with with like
the rearing and the breaking of the horse, that he's
kind of like the mother of the horse. Maybe it
means a female horse, And I'm not sure exactly why
that particular temple interesting. So anyway, some illustrations, as much
like the one we've discussed already, depict this as just
a straight up monster horse with human feet in the front,

which I love. But a more reasonable interpretation is that
this was a polydactyl horse, much in the same way
that you will occasionally find you you'll find, say, like
a polydactyl cat, or of course polydactyl digits in human
beings as well. I found an eighteen seventy nine paper
on the general topic of polydactyl horses by o'thaniel Charles

Marsh titled Polydactyl Horse's Recent and Extinct. He writes, quote,
numerous cases of extra digits in the horse have been recorded,
and in nearly all of them, a single lateral hooflet
was present on one of the four legs. In most instances,
the occurrence was noted chiefly on account of its rarity
and no record was made of the exact position of

the extra hoofs with reference to the main digit, nor
the significance of these useless appendages.

Speaker 3 (29:01):
Oh okay, So the idea here would be that if
there is anything to the story that Swetonius tells about
Caesar's horse, it might be just that the horse did
actually have extra toes, not that it had feet that
looked like a human's feet, but that it was a
case of polydactylely in this horse exactly.

Speaker 1 (29:19):
Yeah, that seems to be like the more likely interpretation.
It's also worth noting, I believe Marsh mentions this as well,
that some accounts may have indicated that Alexander the Great
horse Bucephalus was also polydactyl, in which case, if that
was a you know, that was an idea already present
that would of course inform either the selection or interpretation

of a polydactyl horse for another great general. So you know,
we have to take that into account as well. And
again this general idea that if there's something strange going
on with a with an organism, there might be something
about it that is that is a beneficial importent for
the receiving individual. I believe we touched on one of

these stories regarding if not Caesar, another Roman emperor in
pre in episodes over the last couple of years, and
I don't think believe it was a horse. It was
some other animal that was brought before the general and said, hey,
look at this weird creature and there everyone was like,
this is great. This means this means the campaign is
going well.

Speaker 3 (30:23):
Okay, folks, we just had to take a second to
dig this up because it was too good of a memory. No,
this was something from our goats episode, right that we
did last October.

Speaker 1 (30:31):
That's right, right, Yeah, this concerned a goat creature that
was brought to Sola, and it was I think the
main interpretation was like, yeah, this is great, this is
a this is an omen this means that we're going
to be successful in the campaign.

Speaker 3 (30:49):
It was like somebody found a half man, half goat
in a cave somewhere and then they're like, hey, look
at this.

Speaker 1 (30:55):
Yeah, it made horrible sounds, et cetera. So go back
and listen to that episode if you want the full
story on that, and just goats in general. The cloven
hoof as opposed to the horse.

Speaker 4 (31:04):
Hoof, that feeling when you find a goat man in
a cave, and you know everything's going to be all right.

Speaker 2 (31:19):
All right.

Speaker 1 (31:19):
Anyway, back to Marsh here, Marsh noted that and I
didn't look for other sources on this, but it kind
of casually. He mentions that the indigenous peoples of the
Americas were said to have described the horse when the
Spanish arrived as the beast with one fingernail, which of
course is rather correct as as we've been discussing. And

then Marsh goes on to point out that there are
two slender splint bones within the hoof, the remnants of
two other toes belonging to the ancestors of the modern horse. Now,
Marsh points out a few other key facts that I
think are worth mentioning here. The fore, feet are the
most affected when you look at a eltse in the
records of polydactyl horses, it's almost always the four feet,

and of course this would match up with the story
of Caesar's horse. Also, the additional hooves or if you
want to call them, toes, seem to generally amount to
one or two, so you're maybe looking at three toes
maximum on a four on a front hoof, though it's
not necessarily an equal amount on both four feet, so

like one there's a for instance, there's an account that
he points to where an animal had two hooves on
one and three on the other, so one extra on
one four foot and two extra on the other four foot.
Some of the horses, and this is English. This is
not getting into you know, in any translations here, but
in English, some of these were described as having eight

hooves or the like, thus counting all of the hoofs
on the animal. So this is just me. But I
can imagine first of all, a three toed four foot
reminding one of a human foot, looking at it and
being like, oh, it's kind of like toes. Look there
are three of them. I can likewise imagine some manner
of telephone game deviation occurring when describing a horse and saying, oh,

it had it had five toes. Well, what do you
mean by that? Do you mean that it just has
a single extra hooflet on one of its fore feet.
That would be a reasonable case, I think, based on
what I've been reading here. Or are you going to
interpret that as oh, well, that means it has five
hoofs or five toes to a foot something that is
too extreme based on what I've been looking at.

Speaker 3 (33:37):
I see what you mean. But like the statement about
having total across the animal could be interpreted as on
one one leg.

Speaker 1 (33:45):
Right, Yeah, that's so that's anyway, that's that's me thinking
about it. Marsh wasn't didn't discuss that idea, but it
just has me wondering if that's the sort of thing
that could be going on here as well. Now, there
are plenty of recent accounts of polydactyl horse hoofs and photos.
Of course, you can do an image search and you
can find images of horses that have additional hoofs or

hooflits or toes or whatever you want to call them.
Most accounts I came across of in terms of like
veterinary literature, dealt with congenital abnormalities that were at least
in some cases surgically corrected. So yeah, this is I
guess in the horse world. These are rare enough to
be notable, but certainly not so rare that they're unknown,

so it's not beyond the realm of possibility. It seems
that yes, Caesar may have had a polydactyl horse, acquired
a polydactyl horse or it's also equally likely that this
is just all you know, legend building in order to
build up the case that hey, Caesar is a lot

like that guy Alexander the Great. Both of them rode
around undeformed horses. Both of them were destined for greatness.

Speaker 3 (34:55):
Now, you mentioned a minute ago when you were citing
the paleontologist Othneil Charles Marsh that he had written that
horses have these little splint bones within the hoof, which
he attributed to being remnants of other toes that used
to belong to the ancestors of horses today. And it
turns out that's actually onto something. Because I was reading

some stuff about the evolution of the horse hoof. This
is an interesting and broad topic that's going to have
to span into the next part in the series, but
just to introduce a bit of it here, I was
looking at an article in The New York Times called
How Horses Got their hoofs by steph Ynn, published August
twenty eighth, twenty seventeen. Now, this article is mainly responding

to a journal article that was published in Proceedings of
the Royal Society b Biological Sciences in twenty seventeen by
authors Brianna K. Mchorse Good Research Focus There, Andrew A.
Bee Winner, and Stephanie E. Pierce, and the paper is
called Mechanics of Evolutionary digit Reduction in Fossil Horses meaning

the Biological family Equity. Now, what this journal article did
is it added some evidence to comment on the long
held hypothetical story of horse hoof evolution, which is based
somewhat on fossil evidence and inferences from other sources. But
basically the story that experts have long believed goes something
like this, that the earliest horses were small, much smaller

than horses today. They were sort of dog sized animals
that lived in forested areas, and they had multiple toes
per foot. So you have to imagine like small, little,
you know, doggy horses that had at least three toes
per foot I think maybe four toes on their front
legs and three toes on their back legs. And then
came some climate change about twenty million years ago. Some

of these horses were living in previously forested habitats that
changed into grasslands and plains. The disappearance of forest and
the transition to grassland environments put different adaptive pressures on
these herbivorous four legged animals. And you might imagine there
could be a lot of different pressures there. But one

example would be if you're not in a forest, if
you're in a grassland instead, it is a lot easier
for predators to see you. It's harder to hide, and
so this could drive the evolution of larger bodies as
a defensive adaptation. You need to make it easier to
defend yourself. And it could also lead to selection for
speed in order to be able to evade predators, and

so the story goes. For some reason, this shift to
becoming an animal that needed to be both big and
fast caused the selection of the single toe for the
contact point with the ground, as opposed to the previous
version of this animal, which had had multiple toes per foot. Now,
the authors of the study investigated this hypothetical evolutionary trajectory

by analyzing leg fossils from twelve different times types of
horses over evolutionary time, going back as far as fifty
five million years ago all the way up to modern horses.
And the researchers had previously investigated the different types of
physical stress put on horse legs by various types of
normal behaviors like trotting around, jumping, or speeding up into

a run. And using this information about the physical stresses
on horse legs, they created a model of how these
activities would put stress on the legs of the horse
and then tested that model against different forms of the
horse's foot with different numbers of toes. And what they
found was that when horses were smaller and also had

multiple toes contacting the ground, the extra digits were actually
important for carrying the weight of the body. Body weight
was distributed across multiple toes, but as horses got bigger,
the toes on the sides began to shrink and essentially
disappeared as distinct digits, leaving only the single middle toe. Again,

the middle hit in the ground as the single mighty hoof.
This is the lone contact point with the earth now,
so it seems pretty clear that this is the trajectory
that happened over the evolutionary history of horses or horses,
zebras and donkeys. But why did the side toes disappear?

This study in particular does not answer that definitively, but
in the New York Times article they interviewed the lead author,
BREONN and Mchorse, and she suggested that maybe it's that
having just a single toe made it easier for the
horses to move their feet more quickly, using the comparison
of like trying to run with ankle weights on or

I think of the experience of trying to run in
heavy boots, which I've done. It's very difficult to do.
You know, running shoes tend to be very lightweight.

Speaker 1 (39:50):
That's a good point.

Speaker 3 (39:51):
And one thing this does highlight is the kind of
paradox of the behavior, the graceful behavior of the horse.
It is like range to observe how graceful and quick
horses are given their size. Though I would like to
point out that while horses are sort of a peak
example of this, I'm often struck by the shocking speed

and grace of even much more modest displays by animals
like bovines. Like have you ever seen a cow just
suddenly jump over a fence and it didn't look at
all like that was something that could happen until you
saw it. Do you know what I'm talking about?

Speaker 4 (40:28):

Speaker 1 (40:29):
Yeah, I mean especially with cattle, because a lot of
times they do appear to be not moving a lot,
but when they do move it can be kind of shocking.

Speaker 3 (40:39):
Yeah, cows can look like four footed barges, like they
should not be able to move at anything other than
kind of a shuffle. But then suddenly you see them
leap over a fence or something like that. And now,
of course, cows, as a reminder, are not single toed
ungulates like horses. Cows have two toes per foot, and
they got the hoofs on the two toes. But yeah,
so you multiply that to an even greater extent with horses.

When you actually see them up close and see how
big the animal is and then how fast and gracefully
it moves, something seems like wrong. It's like how is
it doing this? And it's quite It seems quite likely
that the single toad point of contact with the ground
is part of that equation that is how the horse
is possible.

Speaker 1 (41:22):
You know, I think this might touch on another reason
that in literature and culture in general, there's less focus
on how weird the hoof is and more just on
like the majesty of the horse. Because yeah, watching like
the sum total of all of this, watching a horse run,
it's enthralling, Like it's it's hard to imagine, like riding

along in a car and someone like saying, hey, look,
look over there, those horses in that field are running
and being like, ah, I'm good, I don't need to
see that. No, of course you want to see that.
There's just something about it. I don't know, you know,
how much of it is just the the majesty of
the creature itself. How much of it is it's like
the historical and cultural weight of horses. But you know,

it's like they fascinated us. They've always fascinated us, you know,
since time out of mind, since you know, before our
ability to even scrawl them roughly on a cavern wall.

Speaker 3 (42:17):
I'm not even one of those horse people, you know.
They're like horse people and then non horse people. I'm
a non horse person. But when I let myself be amazed,
they are amazing. I guess this is what it's like,
twenty four to seven to be a horse person.

Speaker 1 (42:31):
Yeah. I mean, and again, I'm not like if you
asked me, hey, do you want to ride a horse
this afternoon? I would probably say no, thank I'm good.
I did it once. I'm fine. It's not my thing.
But again, if you were to point out the window
and say, hey, there's some horses running. Would you like
to slow the car down and take a look at this,
I would say yes, please, let's watch, because watching horses
that's more my speed.

Speaker 3 (42:51):
Okay, well, I think we're going to have to cap
part one of this series there, but we will be
back to talk about the hoofs some more. I know,
we have plenty more questions and idea is to get
into about the evolution of horse hoofs. And also we
want to talk about the invention of the horseshoe.

Speaker 1 (43:07):
Yeah, yeah, because that is a key invention in the
human relationship with the horse. And also I think understanding
the horseshoe helps us understand the hoof a little bit
more as well. In the meantime, if you have anything
you'd like to ride in and share with us about
the horse's or their relatives, anything in general about hoofs

or horse like steeds in fantasy and science fiction, everything's
fair game. We'll share that email address in just a minute.
But in the meantime, you can also check out other
episodes of Stuff to Blur Your Mind and Stuff to
Blur your Mind podcast feed wherever you get your podcast
core episodes on Tuesdays and Thursdays, listener mail on Mondays.
On Wednesdays we do a short form artifact or monster

fact episode, and on Fridays we set aside most serious
concerns to just talk about a weird movie on Weird
House Cinema.

Speaker 3 (43:53):
Huge thanks to our excellent audio producer, JJ Posway. If
you would like to get in touch with us with
feedback on this episode or any other, to suggest a
topic for the future, or just to say hello, you
can email us at contact at stuff to Blow your
Mind dot com.

Speaker 2 (44:16):
Stuff to Blow Your Mind is production of iHeartRadio. For
more podcasts from my Heart Radio, visit the iHeartRadio app,
Apple Podcasts, or wherever you're listening to your favorite shows.

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